Nearly 106,000 Americans are diagnosed with colon cancer every year, ranking as the third most common cancer worldwide. For men, the risk of developing this type of cancer is one in 23, and for women, one in 25, but new research suggests that diet could play a positive role in reducing this risk. A new study found that those who ate more healthy plant-based foods such as whole grains, vegetables, and legumes showed a 22 percent lower risk of colon cancer –– also referred to as colorectal cancer –– in contrast to those eating less plant-based foods.

Researchers from Kyung Hee University in South Korea published the new research in the medical journal BMC Medicine. To better understand the role of healthy food in cancer prevention, the research team examined a population of 79,952 American men and compared the level of healthy plant-based foods in their diets. The data was collected from Hawaii and Los Angeles to the Multiethnic Cohort Study between 1993 and 1996.

“Although previous research has suggested that plant-based diets may play a role in preventing colorectal cancer, the impact of plant foods’ nutritional quality on this association has been unclear,” Jihye Kim, one of the study’s authors, said in a statement. “Our findings suggest that eating a healthy plant-based diet is associated with a reduced risk of colorectal cancer.”

Eating Plant-Based to Reduce Cancer Risk

This research aimed to understand how healthy and unhealthy plant-based foods affect the risk of colon cancer. Participants in the study marked their consumption of healthy plant-based foods such as legumes, whole grains, and vegetables or unhealthy plant-based foods such as fruit juices, added sugars, and refined grains. With this information, the researchers compared the data to cancer registries from the beginning of the study to 2017.

“We speculate that the antioxidants found in foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains could contribute to lowering colorectal cancer risk by suppressing chronic inflammation, which can lead to cancer,” Kim said.

The results revealed that the risk of colorectal cancer differed by race and ethnicity. Among white men, healthy plant-based diets were associated with a 24 percent lower cancer risk, whereas Japanese American men only showed a 20 percent reduced risk. The researchers did not note significant links between plant-based diets and colorectal cancer for Native Hawaiian, Latino, or African American men.

"We suggest that the association between plant-based diets and colorectal cancer risk may have been strongest in Japanese American and white men due to differences in other colorectal cancer risk factors between racial and ethnic groups,” Kim said. “However, further research is needed to confirm this.”

The researchers noted that they did not find significant associations between the nutritional value of plant-based foods and the reduction of colorectal cancer risk among the American women populations.

“As men tend to have a higher risk of colorectal cancer than women, we propose that this could help explain why eating greater amounts of healthy plant-based foods was associated with reduced colorectal cancer risk in men but not women,”

Plant-Based Eating May Prevent Several Cancers

This study joins a growing portfolio of research that shows that upholding a healthy plant-based diet is essential to minimizing cancer risks. This October, another study revealed that eating plant-based can protect your body from several digestive cancers including liver, esophageal, gastric, and colorectal. Gastrointestinal cancers account for 35 percent of all cancer-related deaths worldwide, but reducing meat and dairy consumption can help upkeep digestive health.

Giving up meat can help lower your risk of cancer by 14 percent, according to another study. Research has indicated that eating red and processed meats regularly correlates not only with an increased risk of digestive cancers but also prostate cancer, showing a 29 percent increased risk for those eating processed meats.

Bottom Line: Eating Plant-Based May Lower Colorectal Cancer Risk.

Research shows that healthy plant-based diets packed with whole grains, legumes, and vegetables can lead to reduced risks of colorectal risks for men when compared to diets full of unhealthy plant-based foods defined by refined grains, added sugar, and fruit juices.

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